Drunk Yoga Reminded Me Why I Practice in the First Place
I wasn't drunk, but I definitely wasn't sober.
With a glass of sparkling rosé parked at the top of my mat, I squeezed my arms tight to my sides and lowered into chaturanga.
"Make sure to take a sip of wine before you pull forward into upward-facing dog!" Eli Walker called from Solfire's back patio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Never have I ever done something so New York, I thought to myself. But as I pressed my hips into the air for downward-facing dog, I caught my friend Erica's eye, and we burst out laughing. Maybe it was the wine hitting my bloodstream, but I was really enjoying yoga for the first time in a long time.
Don't get me wrong: I love yoga—I'm a 200-hour certified yoga teacher, and I've been practicing since I was 18 years old. But living in the days when you can Instagram your Pincha Mayurasana or your incredible new Terez leggings, it's hard out there for a yogi who just wants to do her own thing. I follow people on social media who can bend their bodies in ways I could never dream of bending mine. I'm regularly served ads for retreats in Bali or Mykonos that cost more than two months' rent and wonder how anybody can afford a 500-hour teacher training without a trust fund.
And when I'm real with myself, I don't love yoga because I feel super connected to the ancient ethics or because I have a burning desire to master a chin-stand—I just like the way it makes my body feel. Or at least I used to, before I started feeling like I wasn't spiritual enough, or bendy enough, or committed enough, or, or, or...
Walker created Drunk Yoga because she was also tired of feeling like she needed to sit at the cool girls' table if she wanted to fit into the yoga community. She wanted to create a safe atmosphere for newbies and veterans alike to make new friends over a glass of wine and just lighten the f*ck up about yoga. And you know what? It worked for me.
Wait, you can't drink wine during yoga!
Ohhh, man. The cultural appropriation of yoga in the Western world is a deep, dark hole that I'm only going to peek into for a moment here. If you're someone who thinks that having a wine buzz during a yoga practice is more debaucherous than a bunch of white girls saging their apartments, then this probably isn't the class for you. Personally, I struggle to find where we draw the line between what's allowed to be called "yoga" and what is considered the bastardization of an ancient practice. Does it not count as yoga if there are goats in the room? What about if you're naked?
In case you're unfamiliar with Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga, they're basically a yogi's eight-step guide to leading a meaningful life. The first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, are about integrity and self-discipline, respectively. Asana (movement) and Pranayama (breath) don't even come into play until the third and fourth limbs, which just goes to show how much of a spiritual practice yoga really is. And yet, I'm going to defend wine here: If goats, wine, or nudity bring you closer to Pratyahara (limb number five, loosely translated to "withdrawal from the wild stress-ball of a world we live in"), then shouldn't it be OK to incorporate them into your yoga practice?
I say, YUP.
Walker's class was very much a basic vinyasa yoga practice in the sense that we spent 45 minutes linking breath to movement in a sequence of poses. It was super accessible (poses you know and love, like warrior II and triangle pose), and we ended with a lovely, melty savasana. The only real differences were these:
1. We had a plastic tumbler of wine in hand for almost every pose.
Meaning you had to be very aware of your wine at all times. We passed the glass between our legs, lifted it overhead, and even handed it over to a neighbor in a hilarious chair pose variation.
2. The class involved drinking games and bumpin' music.
I'm not going to tell you what the games are (because you should go find out for yourself), but they made us feel good about ourselves, and I snorted once from laughing.
3. And Walker was in charge of when we got to drink.
We weren't allowed to take sips without permission, and doing so resulted in a harsh penalty: You had to make up a dance move on your mat, and everyone else had to do it.
It wasn't a messy flop-fest.
Those of us who enjoy alcohol (at least at the time we're drinking it) experience increased activity in our dopamine neurons and a release of endorphins. Pair those happy feelings with a beautiful summer night and some deep stretching, and you've got a recipe for one hell of a warm-fuzzy time.
I know it sounds like a drunk girl thing to slur at the end of the night, but my fellow yogis and I never got sloppy—studies show that if you're a healthy, non-alcoholic adult, two glasses of wine aren't going to make a huge difference in your motor skills. Plus, alcohol has minimal effects on strength levels, so with my inhibitions out the door, doing challenging moves like a half push-up or boat pose felt freaking awesome.
And it was as fun as it sounds.
Because booze is a social lubricant and a stress reducer, Walker gave us about 30 minutes before class to mingle over a drink. She believes that a little liquid courage and time to connect with the other people in the room make it easier to be vulnerable and take risks. And science agrees—as does anybody who has ever opened up to a "best friend" they met 15 minutes earlier at the bar.
One study discovered that people often base their feelings of drunkenness on the state of surrounding drinkers, which probably explains why one yogi's laughter in child's pose set off a wave of giggles across the room—that not even the two girls drinking green juice (no judgment!) could resist.
Most importantly, I was reminded who my yoga practice is actually for: me.
The summer after my senior year of high school, my mom and I practiced together twice a week at a small studio in my hometown. I liked the way it made my body feel as I challenged myself with flexibility and balance poses, and I started to feel stronger in my arms—something I'd never encountered due to a severe lack of sports. I loved that my mom and I could laugh together when we fell out of crow pose, and that nobody cared when I couldn't extend my leg all the way in extended hand-to-big-toe pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana… one of my favorite poses to say).
Folded over my legs, I typically feel embarrassed that I'm not as flexible as 80 percent of the yoga teachers in the world. But that night on my mat, with the wind in my hair, Rihanna on the speakers, and a little help from the ethanol in my body, I felt zero shame. I didn't look around the room to see who was touching their toes—I was just there, enjoying the same strength and lightness I used to love about yoga. And if wine changed anything for me that night, it was that I was reminded to stay in my own lane. As Walker says: "Wine brings us together; yoga brings you to yourself."
Surgeon General's warning:
I'm not suggesting you go chug a bottle of Jack and do some handstands. Like everything else, too much of a good thing can be dangerous, and alcohol and athleticism don't exactly go hand in hand—that's precisely why we were limited to one glass of wine before class started, one during, and spent most of the practice with both feet on the ground or seated.
Walker was elaborate in her cueing, which was crucial for keeping yogis safe throughout the sequences. We also signed a waiver, so if someone couldn't handle tree pose after one glass of rosé, that was on them. Of course, it's also important to know yourself—if you and alcohol don't have a stable relationship status, supplementing your normal activities with booze is probably not wise.
So if it makes sense for you, go get funky with your yoga.
What started as a once-a-week class at The Grey Lady has turned into a full-blown, trademarked yoga business with a stacked event calendar. One week, Walker is teaching on a yacht in lower Manhattan, and the next she's at a brewery in Wisconsin—all in the name of changing people's minds about yoga. "With Drunk Yoga, I wanted to create a safe and silly space for yogis and non-yogis alike to just have fun and move their bodies," Walker says. "I hate that people feel like they need to be perfect on their mat—that's not what it's all about."
I'll drink to that.
Jamey Powell is an editorial intern at Greatist, as well as a cycling instructor, yoga teacher, and triathlete. When she isn't sweating, she's usually eating or trying to pet someone's dog. You can follow her antics on Instagram.